June 8th, 2005


Driving While Gay, or: Queer by Personality Disturbance

When Google News recently made its homepage customizable, my ability to keep up with the news was improved far more than I would have imagined possible. I added sections for local and state news, and sections for lesbian, gay, and bisexual news. I added non-U.S. editions of the world news section, so that more non-U.S. media sources would show up. Now I never have to click the links on the side or use the search bar for anything, because everything I want to read comes up on one page.

However, one of the articles that showed up today was about a 23-year-old queer man in Sicily who had his driver's license revoked for "driving while gay." It seems that the people in charge of issuing driver's licenses in Sicily found records showing that this man had been dismissed from the military for being gay, and they decided that since (as everyone knows) feeling attracted to members of the same sex is a mental illness, and since mental illnesses might theoretically impair people's ability to drive (although I can't say that the vast majority of instances of mental illness that I can think of have any such effect), this man would need to be individually examined and get a doctor to verify whether his mental illness of homosexuality would interfere with his ability to drive or not. And in the meantime, pending such verification, they revoked his driver's license.

However, a judge has now ordered the driver's license authorities to give him his driver's license back. A happy ending! Except not really, because this judge's explanation for why "driving while gay" should not be illegal was, and these are his exact words: "[Homosexuality] cannot be considered a true and proper psychiatric illness, being a mere personality disturbance."

"Personality disturbance"? Are you disturbed? Well, I'm pretty disturbed about this judge, and these driver's-license-revoking authorities.

I would like to point out that although both "personality disturbance" and "psychiatric illness" are distinctly offensive terms, the difference between them appears to me to consist mostly of the fact that "psychiatric illnesses" tend to be suspected of being at least somewhat genetically influenced (which is different from saying that they actually are at least somewhat genetically influenced - I'm speaking here of how mainstream society seems to imagine them to be), whereas "personality disturbances" tend not to be suspected of this. And apparently the one considered less likely to be genetically influenced is deemed more worthy of being permitted to drive - despite the fact that the vast majority of people diagnosed with "psychiatric illnesses" are entirely as capable of driving as anybody else.

However, don't expect to see me calling myself "queer by personality disturbance" anytime soon. :p

The article says that the poor gay man who's had to suffer all this "has lost his hair and is suffering shock." Yeah, I'd probably be losing my hair and suffering shock too. And to get your driver's license reinstated only at the price of having to endure the further insult and depressingness that the judge supposedly "on your side" is only "defending" your rights to the extent of calling your ability to fall in love with who you fall in love with a "personality disturbance" rather than a "true and proper psychiatric illness" - well, when you get treated worse than you had imagined possible in your wildest nightmares once, it can be dismissed as at least a little bit of a fluke. But when this is all the world can supply in reparations? A victory that hollow might be even worse than the original insult. Even despite the money that it appears he probably got for winning his court case - I mean, who wants to have to feel gratitude to a guy who just insulted you like that, just because he gave you money along with the insult?